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Bilingual babies
Thread poster: Lucy Phillips

Lucy Phillips  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:12
Spanish to English
+ ...
Apr 30, 2004

Hi everyone

I'm expecting a baby in three months and would like to bring her (yes, it's a girl!) up to be bilingual - and possibly even teach her basics of a third language. I am a native English speaker, as is my husband (who doesn't speak another language). My 'first' second language is Spanish, in which I am fluent and I have heard that the best way to bring up a child to be bilingual is for each parent to speak a different language to their child. My concern is that, though fluent, I am not currently in the habit of speaking Spanish every day and also have no experience of 'baby language' in Spanish. Also, there will inevitably be gaps in my vocabulary from time to time. Finally, though I want my child to speak Spanish, I really am not sure that I want to speak to her all the time in my second language as I feel that, in my current environment, it is not my 'natural' form of communication (I would feel differently if my husband also spoke the language or if I were living in Spain or Latin America). I do have Spanish-speaking friends and relatives but don't see them on a daily or even weekly basis at the moment.

I'd be very interested in hearing other parents opinions/experience of this issue and also whether it is just too much to introduce another language at some point (in my case Portuguese).

Looking forward to hearing from you!


Agua  Identity Verified
English to Spanish
+ ...
Congratulations :-)). Apr 30, 2004


First, congratulations on your new baby-to-comeicon_smile.gif.

As for your question, from personal experience, I have a more-or-less bilingual girl. I am a Spanish native speaker and my husband a native English speaker, and that is how we talked to her when we were in the States, etc. That kept it clear in her mind, so if she asks for a glass of water, she can come to me and ask: "Mami, ¿me das un vaso de agua, por favor?", and if I tell her to go and ask her father, she would say: "Daddy, can you give me a glass of water, please?".

I do not know too much about the theory, although I did read some, where it explained that the languages should be kept separately. I think that may be best for the first two-three years.

Right now, we are back in Spain (although we are looking for possibilities to move againicon_smile.gif, and, since most of the language she hears and speaks outside is Spanish, the language between the three of us is mostly English, although we can jump from one language to the other, depending on how we feel.

Let me know how it goesicon_smile.gif,


[Edited at 2004-04-30 10:45]


Jesús Marín Mateos  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:12
English to Spanish
+ ...
Possible but difficult Apr 30, 2004

Dear Lucy,
My son and daughter are bilingual because we both speak Spanish to them (our native language) and they speak English outside (!!!). I think you should give it a try but when I speak English to my son I feel ridiculous not because I am not confident but because I will never be able to use English as fully as I use my mother tongue and this comes into my identity kind of thing. I don't know if I have explained myself properly but the bottom line is give it a go....but don't miss 'la naturalidad de querer a tus hijos'.


Claudia Iglesias  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:12
Member (2002)
Spanish to French
+ ...
Congrats Lucy! Apr 30, 2004

I'm fully bilingual Spanish/French and when my first child was born I "decided" to speak Spanish to her. I used to speak French with my husband, and speaking Spanish at home was not something natural, I really was aware that it was a question of choice and decision. Once I had got used to speak Spanish to my baby it became a habit, at the beginning it wasn't natural (and I'm talking of a native speaker level).
I've seen mothers who speak their husband's language to their children with a strong accent. The two cases I know were married with French guys, and I always wondered why they did that (the children were studying in the French school, the father was and spoke French, it was an effort for the mothers to speak French). My secret thought is that they believed that French was better than Spanish.
In the books that I read about this topic it was clearly stated that before the age of three, languages hadn't to be mixed because the child establishes a relation between language ans speaker. He doesn't mix the persons, and he doesn't mix the languages.
So you must be ready to have to look how would you say everything in Spanish. I'm not talking about "Baby language" (which in fact is just the copy of what babies say), I'm talking about songs before going to bed, for example (sort of thing that even if you have a native level you don’t have if you weren’t raised in that language).
You must also think that strangers to your family won't understand why you speak in another language to your child. My mother in law was convinced that I always spoke about her to the children when we spoke in Spanish. She also thought that it was too much for their little brain and so on.
Most of the bilingual children speak late. I had to explain to her that my child was normal (my second child spoke at nearly 3 years old). So there is external pression.

About the "natural environment":
In Venezuela it wasn't my husband's environment, he felt that he was a minority but it wasn't important, because speaking French was natural for him and he never thought of speaking Spanish . But I felt minority in France because it was as easy to me to speak French than Spanish. When I noticed that to my second child I was
1)speaking Spanish
and, when I was in a hurry, speaking directly in French, I understood that if we remained there my children would lose their Spanish.
One of the reasons to leave France was tha desired bilinguism we had for our children.
In every moving I carried children books written in the other language. Later (and too late) I noticed that as long as children don't read we can tell them the stories in both languages (of course, once daddy and the other time mummy).

In your case I think that it's a good idea if you're aware that you must stick to your decision, that it must be a couple's choice too. I wouldn't hesitate to think about moving to a Spanish speaking country where you could be free of speaking English because your child would learn Spanish with little friends and in kindergarden.

I would not think of a third language until 6, unless there is a third person who speaks only that language to your child.

Now my children are bilingual, they don't mix languages, it's natural, it's great and I'm proud. When I write about this experience I notice that everything was calculated, but when we're plainly inside we always have doubts: Am I doing right?

[Edited at 2004-04-30 11:35]


Natalya Zelikova  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:12
Member (2003)
English to Russian
+ ...
Bilingual child in a single-language family? Apr 30, 2004

Congratulations, Lucy!icon_smile.gif

This may be a slight off-topiñ, but I have a question to those who have an experience of raising a bilingual child in a family with both parents of the same nationality and language.
My daughter is almost 3 months now and I really would like to apply my energies to make her bilingual. To be exact she will speak two languages anyway - Russian and Ukrainian, but though they differ, there is still much affinity between them, so I would like her also to speak English (and any other European language/s after a while).
So far I plan to invite a personal tutor and will speak English to her myself. But as far as I understand this will not make a "bilingual" of her, at the most she will just speak English well.
Having nothing particular to ask I would still like to hear opinions on this situation.

[Edited at 2004-04-30 12:05]


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:12
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Move to Spain or Latin America... Apr 30, 2004

...if you want her to learn Spanish. Or hire a granny. I would not want to spoil my to relation to my child by using a foreign language. Children can aquire second or third languages still in kindergarten or school, so I wouldn't wory about that too much.


GoodWords  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:12
Spanish to English
+ ...
Mother tongue Apr 30, 2004

Some experts say that a mother should talk to her baby in her (the mother's) own mother tongue. I agree with this for the following reasons.

You alluded to it when you mentioned your doubts, and said that you "have no experience of 'baby language' in Spanish." By talking to your baby in the language that you know most thoroughly and intimately, in all its nuances, and without any limitations, you will be helping your baby reach her full linguistic potential as she develops her language abilities. The advantages of this should compensate for any delay in introducing a second language.

You can support her learning Spanish later from family, and perhaps a Spanish-speaking nanny. Although no age is too early to begin exposure to a second (and third) language, you are the person she will be closest to and spending the most time with during the early years when she is learning about the world and language in general. You can best help her in this monumental and wonderful task by interacting with her in the language you know best.

Your mother tongue is the language of your heart; what could be more appropriate for a relationship that in some ways is the most intimate that you can ever experience?

[Edited at 2004-04-30 14:35]


Andrea Jablon  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:12
Member (2003)
English to Spanish
+ ...
My own experience Apr 30, 2004

Te escribo en español para que se te vaya haciendo más natural! (y porque se me hace más fácil hablar del tema en español);)
Te felicito por el próximo nacimiento de tu beba! Tengo 2 niñas hermosas (4 y 1) y sé que realmente es maravilloso.

Mi caso es así: mi papá se fue a vivir a Brasil cuando yo tenía 4 años, se casó con una mujer brasileña y tuvo varios hijos por allá (donde aún vive). Dejó de hablar español y se dedicó al portugués en tiempo completo. Resultado: su español actual es bastante dudoso y ninguno de mis 5 hermanos habla el idioma (aunque lo entienden razonablemente bien, si uno quiere que lo entiendan).

Desde muy chiquita pasaba varios meses al año en Rio de Janeiro y hablaba portugués con la mitad de mi familia, por lo que mi portugués es prácticamente nativo.

Cuando cumplí unos 10 años, me mudé con mi mamá (que no entiende una palabra de portugués) y su marido a Venezuela y, además, empecé a tener más obligaciones escolares, por lo que mis viajes se hicieron más cortos y mi relación con el portugués se hizo menos asidua. Siempre escuchaba mucha música y leía mucho en portugués, iba todas mis vacaciones, tenía muchos amigos, pero no era lo mismo. Después de recibirme en la facultad llegué incluso a vivir 5 años en Sao Paulo.

Sin embargo, nadie iba a imaginar que yo decidiría hablarle a mis hijas en portugués, ni siquiera yo...

Pero así fue. Cuando me quedé embarazada (en Argentina, casada con un argentino), no sé por qué, me pareció que no era posible que mi bebé no se comunicara con mis hermanos brasileños o que no entendiera a la mujer de mi papá o que no cantara Caetano Veloso!
Así que, desde la panza, viviendo en Argentina, y rodeada de una familia local (propia y política) que ni habla ni entiende portugués, me lancé a la loca aventura de hablarle portugués a mi panza.

En mi siguiente viaje a Brasil, hice lo que sabiamente te aconseja Claudia: compré música infantil, videos infantiles en portugués, libritos, etc.

Nació mi hija mayor y empecé a ver los resultados. Hoy tiene 4 años y habla PERFECTAMENTE ambos idiomas, y es más, ahora me pide aprender inglés. No sabes la naturalidad con la que simplemente asume que las personas de distintos lugares le dan diferentes nombres a las cosas. Ya la agarré viendo la tele en francés! "Si uno mira se entiende igual, mami". Al año y medio hablaba como un loro... bilingue!!!! Y por si esto fuera poco, mi marido ya entiende casi todo y hasta hace intentos para "falar portugues", pero mi hija le marca muy estrictamente sus errores, asi que sufre bastante...

Ahora estamos haciendo lo mismo con la menor, que tiene 18 meses. No habla tanto como hablaba Maia (en ningún idioma), pero si responde y "obedece" a lo que le digas en cualquiera de los dos, intenta cantar en cualquiera de los dos, le encantan los videos en portugués...

Actualmente, dejo el portugués para nuestros viajes a Brasil, mi casa o cuando estamos en familia, porque no quiero que se sientan incómodas delante de sus amigas. A solas: cuando me habla en español, yo respondo, pero en portugués. Si leemos un librito en español, lo leo en español, si es en portugués, respetamos el idioma. A mí se me hizo muy natural con el tiempo. Tanto, que si la tengo que regañar, me cuesta hacerlo en español, ¿puedes creerlo?

Mi hija mayor le habla a la chiquita en español (obviamente lo siente su idioma nativo), pero al llegar a Brasil, le toma apenas unas horas ponerse en ambiente. Me imagino que con el tiempo será igual con Nina.

En fin, mi experiencia es que no solo hablan dos idiomas. También tienen una visión un poco más abierta de algunas cosas.

No es fácil, pero ¡Vale la pena intentarlo!


Seadeta Osmani  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:12
English to Croatian
+ ...
From a bilingual child to the mother in doubt: Apr 30, 2004

Here I am, born and raised in a bilingual family. How my parents exactly did it and what was going on in their minds and hearts I can't really tell, but being a child of a native Albanian and native Croatian (born in Croatia) turned out to be a great experience! I could clearly separate languages by the time I was six and I suppose my ear and tounge were "trained" in that early age for adjusting to languages, so today I speak Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian, Slovenian (all similar but different languages), Albanian, English, German, I manage to find my way through Spanish and Turkish.

Another aspect of being bilingual is having a chance to meet different cultures and get to know them not through translated material or books or professors, but through their native languages and people. I must say, it's been a real treat having that kind of an insight. Maybe by speaking Spanish to your baby girl you could prepare her for meeting worlds other than UK and English-speaking countries...

Good luck!



Local time: 14:12
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

My experience Apr 30, 2004

Congratulations! Motherhood is your greatest adventure.:-)
It's good, too, that you want to leave this legacy to your little daughter.
When my parents met, my da said to my mum : Do you speak English? (they met in Québec, as he was a sailor. She was at home). Her answer: Just enough.
It was just enough to get married, I guess. He took her to his home in the Niagara region, near Toronto, and went back to sailing.
He got off a boat around the time I was due to start school, and went looking for me in the neighbourhood. He told one man: I'm looking for my daughter, Nancy. The man said: this place is full of kids, which one is she? My da replied: She is the one with the French accent. The man instantly knew who I was.
My da (unilingual anglophone, Irish descent, Irish culture, Irish cuisine, Irish everything) ensured I went to French school, the only one in town at the time (things have changed in Ontario, thanks goodness). He insisted my mum speak exclusively in French to me. I understand what some others have said in this forum: speaking English to my mum is about as natural as speaking Swahili. Our language is French. It's the same with my kids: French for grand-maman, English for G'da.

Your difficulty, of course, is that Spanish is your second language and you are located in the UK. Your daughter will be bilingual if you enrol her in Spanish lessons (beyond regular school), join a Spanish mum-and-me group, if one exists in your area, and later, you will send her to Spain on school trips etc. Of course, you will read Spanish books to her and let her watch Spanish baby videos, as suggested by another contributor. The matter of mixing the languages applies much less in your case because of your Anglo environment. It's very unlike ours, where particularly where I am located now, on the Québec-Ontario border; franglais is the order of the day, so much so that I sometimes wonder how unilinguals can understand some of the locals, who start a sentence in English and end it in French.icon_wink.gif
However you approach your situation, it's bound to be a lot of fun;-)


Stefanie Sendelbach  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:12
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
Bilingual really good...? Apr 30, 2004

Congratulations, Lucy!!icon_smile.gif

I would like to add another thought on this topic. From my experience with bilingual people, I noticed that most of them are not secure in using any of their two languages. Be it grammar, use of words or (worst) idioms and sayings, they just don't seem to get it right, at least not without having to think about their phrase a second time.

But if you decide to bring your girl up bilingually, I think I would support Heinrich's idea of moving into a Spanish speaking surrounding. Thus she will get to listen to a "perfect" English environment at home and a "perfect" Spanish environment outside of her home.

Keep us updated, ok?

Good luck,


Claudia Iglesias  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:12
Member (2002)
Spanish to French
+ ...
Bilinguism has to be worked on Apr 30, 2004

Sundari is right. Bilingual people can't relay on their assets and forget about improving them, otherwise they forget what they knew and one language becomes dominant.
Reading and practicing both languages all the time is essential.
I was a Spanish teacher in France, and I had beginners (the two first years). I repeated the same class three times for each level every week, for three years. I always looked for a change, created new ways to teach. But I never needed to look at a dictionary and I really had the feeling of being losing my language. Translation brings to me all sort of new challenges, linguistic (and technicalicon_frown.gif) challenges that I really appreciate, and I work on my bilinguism all the time.


Jesús Marín Mateos  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:12
English to Spanish
+ ...
Your mother tongue is the language of your heart; Apr 30, 2004

Me quedo con la opinion de Goodwords que tiene en cuenta el corazon y no el aspecto practico.

Some experts say that a mother should talk to her baby in her (the mother's) own mother tongue.

You alluded to this when you mentioned that you "have no experience of 'baby language' in Spanish." By talking to your baby in the language that you know most thoroughly and intimately, in all its nuances, and without any limitations, you will be helping your baby reach her full linguistic potential as she develops her language abilities. The advantages of this should compensate for any delay in introducing a second language.

Your mother tongue is the language of your heart; what could be more appropriate for a relationship that in some ways is the most intimate that you can ever experience?[/quote]

[Edited at 2004-04-30 13:45]


Bill Greendyk  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:12
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
A unique approach not practical for most Apr 30, 2004

My wife and I, both native English-speakers, married in the US, and the following day, left for a work assignment in South America. Three of our four children were born and raised to at least Pre-school level speaking Spanish outside of the home and English at home. When it came time to move to the US after 10 years of living and speaking Spanish and English, we desperately wanted out children to maintain their bilingualism.

Concurrently, we had endeared ourselves to a teenage boy there who, effectively, had no parents, and had been living at our home for 4 years. On a gamble which we hardly dreamed would be possible, we spoke to his mother (who seemed more than happy to be relieved of the responsibility!), and asked her if we could take her son with us to the US. As his "sponsor", we were surprised and thrilled to receive a student visa for him. (Something very, very difficult to acquire from the US Embassy in Bolivia!)

So, since late 2001 we have a bilingual home in the heartland of the US. We speak just short of 100% Spanish to our children at home, and the children, obviously, attend English-speaking schools and have English-speaking friends. Thus far, our three Bolivian-born children are as bilingual as their parents.

The most interesting aspect of this duality of languages happened when we had our fourth child just after arriving here. He is now learning, very capably, both Spanish and English. Unconsciously, at times we speak to him in Spanish, other times in English. At 20 months, he responds to "Vení, Joselito" ("come, Joey," in the "vos" form of Spanish used in the part of Bolivia where we lived) as quickly as he responds to "Come, Joey." It's amazing, as well, to see that he knows just who to use only his child's Spanish, and never English -- with our "adopted" Bolivian son! (Who has since mastered English and entered university here).

As the title of my posting indicates, I realize that this situation isn't practical for most, but it has made it possible for us to remain a completely bilingual family almost three years after leaving South America, and we hope it stays that way!


sarahl (X)
Local time: 11:12
English to French
+ ...
Language acquisition is a natural process Apr 30, 2004

Hi Lucy!
If I were you, I wouldn't worry too much about your child's picking up languages. In my very international family where most children grew up with 2 languages (three for my son) some are completely fluent in both languages, some can't spell right in their dominant language, and so on.
I really think all we can do is expose our children to a lot of learning experiences, eg languages, music, sports, so forth and let them "pick" their own world. As multicultural parents we are already fostering an openness to cultures, learning, so forth. And that's the most wonderful thing we can teach our children if you ask me. So relax, whatever you do, you can't go wrong.

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